Julia McNamara ’97 explains how she made the leap from executive to author, and offers advice to alumni who are considering leaving the corporate world to pursue a creative interest.
Four years ago, Julia McNamara ’96 was at a crossroads in her career. Having parlayed a Columbia MBA and a background in technology into a position as a vice president at Bell South, she found that she was no longer passionate about what she was doing. When the company she worked for was acquired, McNamara opted to take severance package, which she used to embark on a less traditional career path.
This fall, McNamara will publish The Irish Face in America, a coffee-table book that explores what it means to be Irish-American. Targeted to the 44 million Americans of Irish descent, the book documents the Irish-American experience through photographs, profiles and personal essays.
“It really fascinated me that a lot of Americans claim their heritage,” McNamara said. “Here in New York, people describe themselves as Greek, Puerto Rican, etc., even though they were born here. People who are five generations removed from Ireland and couldn’t pick Ireland off a map still march in the parade on St. Patrick’s Day.”
The result of two and a half years of research, The Irish Face in America is McNamara’s first foray into the publishing industry. Her business background inspired her to take an unorthodox approach to the project, raising funding from Guiness, Kodak and an Irish-American radio station to finance the book’s production. The corporate sponsors are also helping to distribute the book.
“I took a marketing approach from the beginning and set up the distribution channels in advance,” McNamara said. She and her photographer, Jim Smith, were halfway through the project before they got an agent and found a publisher.
McNamara’s next project is a book that she is working on with Janet Hanson ’77, president and CEO of Milestone Capital Management and founder of the 85 Broads mentoring network. Titled Women Who Rock, the book’s target audience is young women who are in college or business school.
McNamara advises alumni who are considering leaving a corporate job in order to pursue a creative interest to start by taking classes or doing freelance or volunteer work. “You can do it on the side,” she said. “If you’re interested in film, take a three-month sabbatical from your job to work as a volunteer on a film project. You really need to test the waters. It’s a good idea to set a three-year goal to transition out of a corporate job.”